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Alexander Howland Smith papers regarding his forgery of Robert Burns's The jolly beggars


Held at: University of Delaware Library Special Collections [Contact Us]181 South College Avenue, Newark, DE 19717-5267

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Delaware Library Special Collections. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Alexander Howland Smith, also known as "Antique Smith," was a Scottish law clerk known for the literary forgeries he produced circa 1888 to 1892.

Around this time, Smith frequented the bookshops of Edinburgh, collecting books for their contemporary fly leaves on which he would produce his forgeries. Many of Smith's dealings involved Edinburgh bookseller, James Stillie, who may have been complicit in passing the forgeries. Though Smith reproduced an array of literary works, he forged the letters and manuscripts of Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns most frequently. Eventually discovered and arrested for the crime of obtaining money by deceit, Smith was sentenced to one year in prison in 1892.

Fergus, David. "Antique Smith: The Affable Forger." (accessed March 12, 2014).McDonald, Gerald. "Forgeries in the Library."The New York Public Library Bulletin 41 (1937): 623-628. Additional biographical information derived from collection.

The collection comprises Smith's sixteen-page forgery of Robert Burns's cantata "The Jolly Beggars," along with documentation attempting to verify its authenticity.

The documentation includes a certificate from John Maitlan[d] stating he received the manuscript from Burns, as well as a dealer's description by James Stillie.

Box 65, F0945: Shelved in SPEC MSS 0099 manuscript boxes.

Purchase, May 2013.

Processed and encoded by Dustin Frohlich, March 2014. Further encoded by George Apodaca, October 2015.

University of Delaware Library Special Collections
Finding Aid Author
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
Finding Aid Date
2014 March 6
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections, University of Delaware Library,

Collection Inventory

Presentation letter, circa 1888-1892.
Box 65 Folder F0945
Scope and Contents

Smith's forged presentation letter signed by "Burns."

Physical Description

1 item

Certificate, circa 1888-1892.
Box 65 Folder F0945
Physical Description

1 item

"The Jolly Beggars" forged manuscript, circa 1888-1892.
Box 65 Folder F0945
Physical Description

1 item (16 p.)

James Stillie dealer's description, circa 1888-1892.
Box 65 Folder F0945
Scope and Contents

Dealer description (of the forgery) by James Stillie; also includes an undated statement in an unknown hand describing the composition of the cantata and the provenance of Burns's original manuscript.

Physical Description

2 items

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